Sermon: “Now You’ve Invited Me to Ask…”

June 26, 2016: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Luke 9:51-62

Last week, our story of Elijah on the mountain, listening for the still, small voice, ended with God giving new instructions to that prophet, and sending Elijah back to work. Among his new tasks, which we didn’t read, was that he was to appoint Elisha as his successor. By the time we get to this part of Second Kings, the two have worked together for some time, and the time has come for the succession to happen. Elijah will depart, and Elisha will take on his responsibilities as a prophet to the nation of Israel.

If you’re having trouble keeping the names straight, I don’t blame you. Bible students have lamented the fact that the names Elijah and Elisha sound so much alike for centuries. It’s not much better in Hebrew: Elijah was pronounced Eh-lee-yah, meaning “My God is the Lord,” and Elisha, pronounced Eh-lee-sha, means “God is salvation.”

I’ll try to make it clear as I go through which I’m talking about, which will mostly be Elisha, the younger, the successor prophet. But if you’re confused, you might wave or something, and I’ll try to make it clear. In any case, just know that you’re in good company.

Elijah, the elder, has spent his career opposing King Ahab of Israel and his successor, King Ahaziah. Both monarchs had turned from the God of Israel to worship the god Baal, and both had also repeatedly demonstrated that they cared more for their own welfare than they did for the welfare of their people.

For Trevor Eppheimer, the dean of Hood Theological Seminary, those kings echoed an earlier figure in the history of God’s people: the Pharaoh of Egypt. The kings of Israel had adopted the same fascination with political power, forgetting that God intervenes on behalf of the oppressed.

Eppheimer writes: “The unique call of the prophet, in this context, is to open the nation’s eyes to the illusory nature of Pharaoh’s power and the ultimate reality of [God]’s.”

That had been Elijah’s ministry, to speak for God amidst drought, war, murder, and threats against his own life. He would now pass that ministry to Elisha.

Elijah told Elisha three times to stay behind on their journey – we’ve left one of those out to shorten the reading. He didn’t say why. Elisha didn’t ask why, and the authors of the book of Kings don’t offer an opinion, either. What matters is that Elisha insisted, each time, on coming along, right across the Jordan River in a miracle that echoes Israel’s entrance with Moses’ successor, Joshua, into the Promised Land.

Finally, Elijah asked the critical question: “Tell me what I may do for you.” That’s Elisha’s opening. I can just see him jumping at the chance, even leaping like a fish to a lure: “Well, Elijah, as long as you’re asking: How about a double share of your spirit?”

That’s what he was waiting for.

I know how that sounds, but Elisha wasn’t being greedy or power-hungry. At that time in Israel, when a landowner died, they divided the wealth among his sons (and if that sounds sexist to you, it does to me). The oldest son received a double portion – twice as much as any of the other sons – because he was the principal heir of the land.

What Elisha asked was to be recognized by Elijah, and by God, as the principal heir of the great prophet. “Yes, give guidance, inspiration, and power to these other prophets we’ve been meeting on our journey, but me: I’m the eldest son.”

Elijah, however, couldn’t make that promise. Prophetic ministry is not property that can be divided (you heard it here first, folks). Prophetic ministry is a vision that can be declared. That’s why the test is one of vision. Will Elisha see what God is doing?

As Eppheimer writes: “Elisha excitedly cries out, ‘The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ in order to confirm that he has, in fact, seen Elijah taken up. He has the requisite vision to perceive the reality of [God]’s activity in the midst of a world held under the illegal and illusory jurisdiction of Pharaoh and his heirs. This, finally, is what marks him as Elijah’s rightful successor.”

He does not just see the vision.

He has the vision.

The vision becomes part of his life.

As Second Kings goes on, we’ll see that Elisha’s career as a prophet showed more signs of success than his mentor Elijah’s. He was welcomed by royal courts in Israel and Judah, and also in surrounding nations. Elijah was really only welcomed there while under arrest. Elisha was consulted by the rulers of Israel, not ignored or persecuted as Elijah had been by Ahab.

Some of that was because the times changed, and the descendants of Ahab were overthrown. Some of it, I think, was because Elisha asked for that double portion, to be a true heir of Elijah, and with that vision he made a difference. Building on what Elijah had begun, he changed the world around him.

Dare we ask for a double portion?

Dare we ask to see a vision?

Dare we ask to take on our work in the world?

Dare we make an impact?

Dare we accept the challenge offered by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”?

This story might lead you to think that this kind of decision is a once-in-a-lifetime question. When the previous generation’s work is done, you decide whether to step in or not. Simple.

But it isn’t, is it? We certainly face moments of big decision in our lives – career choices, relationship choices, whether to become parents – but the big picture decisions lead to small picture ones. “What to do” becomes “Who to work for,” “Who to work for” becomes “How do I do this job,” “How do I do this job” becomes “What’s the important thing to work on today,” “What’s the important thing to do today” becomes “What’s next?”

All those questions and answers, and their analogues in relationships and homemaking and community service and parenting and all the rest of life – all those questions and answers matter. Details matter. God is in the details. How we do a thing is as important as what we set out to do.

At any place along the journey, at any point in the process, in any state of confusion or of certainty, it’s appropriate to ask once again for that double portion of Spirit, to seek to renew the vision.

The United Church of Christ is taking just such a time right now. General Minister and President the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer and others in the UCC’s leadership have developed some prospective statements to guide the mission of our denomination. And they’re looking for our input. We’ve posted a link to a survey which includes those possible mission and vision statements and asks for consideration and comment on the church’s website and Facebook Page. I also plan to offer a time for people to get together in a group to look them over, discuss them, and submit feedback together – that will come in the next few weeks.

As Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha, Dr. Dorhauer has recently received the mantle of leadership in the UCC, making this a great time to seek that double portion and invite a vision. I’m very glad that we’re all invited to participate.

Likewise, this church has new leadership – I think that’s me – and we’ll continue to have new leadership. Now, I’m planning to minister here for a long time, but I’m also planning to grow and to change. I really hope to have ideas tomorrow that didn’t occur to me yesterday. I really hope to become a more faithful disciple of Jesus next week than I was last week.

We’ll see others among us as well who step up with ideas, energy, and expertise that we haven’t seen before. I truly believe that we’ll also be blessed with new ideas, energy, and expertise from people who are as new to us as their imaginations.

After just two months, I make no claim that I’ve a grasp on the vision of this church’s work, but I am certainly praying for it. At the least excuse, any indication that I’ve been invited to ask, I’m praying for that double portion of the Spirit. After all, I must do the thing I think I cannot do.

It’s not just a question for the Church, for national organizations or congregations. It’s not just a question for pastors or denominational presidents. We all of us, at any stage of life, and for any question of life, can ask for that double portion of Spirit. We can ask to renew that relationship with God in which we are beloved children, and heirs of the promise. That’s not looking back from the plow, or inviting distraction which Jesus warned about. That’s refreshing the vision and reviving ourselves as disciples of Christ.

Sister Joan Chittister writes: “Prophets are those who take life as it is and expand it. They refuse to shrink a vision of tomorrow to the boundaries of yesterday.”

As followers of Jesus, we are all called to take life as it is and expand it, to ask for a double portion of the Spirit, to have it confirmed by holding a vision of a more loving world, to bring it to being with work and with prayer. So ask for the Spirit, search for the vision, learn from the leaders who came before, and step out to make a difference.

Do the thing you think you cannot do.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on June 26, 2016

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